by Craig Etheredge
Only God can make you want what He wants.
It’s one thing to desire to serve God but feel like you are restricted by your schedule. It’s quite another thing to lose the desire to serve God altogether. Yet, many people feel exactly that way. The urgency, the desire, and the drive to share Christ have all long since faded away, and there is very little thought about the spiritual condition of the people around them.
While most Christians would strongly deny the idea of atheism (the belief that there is no God), unfortunately,many have embraced a growing apatheism (apathy toward the things of God). Is that you? Have you become increasingly apathetic toward the spiritual condition of the people in your life?
I’m reminded of the story Jesus told about a man who decided to travel from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road skirts along the deep Wadi Qelt that stretches through the West Bank of Israel down towards the Jordan river which leads to the Dead Sea. Even today, that road is arduous and deadly. It is filled with caves where thieves can hide, and the road is narrow with steep cliffs on one side. One bad step could result in a tragic fall.
Jesus told of a man who traveled this road only to be ambushed, beaten, and left for dead. As he lay there bleeding and in desperate need of help, other people came along the path. Jesus said,
“Now by chance, a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion,” (Luke 10.31-33 ESV).
First, a Jewish priest came down this road and noticed the hurting man, but he didn’t stop to help. He just “passed by on the other side.” Next, a Levite — a member of the special Jewish tribe set apart to worship and serve God — came along, and he too “passed by on the other side.” Neither one of these very religious men stopped to help. Then a Samaritan came down the road. The Samaritans were deeply hated by the Jews. They were considered half-breeds and rebels against the God of Israel. But that day, this Samaritan saw a hurting man, and he stopped.
What was the difference between these men? We can read into this story all kinds of motives and scenarios that might have caused the religious Jews to pass by this hurting man, but Jesus only points to one difference between them: All three saw the man in need, but only one had compassion. It was that compassion that caused the Samaritan to stop and help.
When we come to the place where we lose compassion for those around us who are hurting and far from God, then we can quickly become religious people who are void of the love of God. Even worse, we can become hostile toward people who don’t know Jesus, seeing them as the problem with this world. We can ignore the truth that it is Satan who is the problem and that people under his influence are unaware of it. People are not the problem. People matter to God. Sin is the problem, and Jesus came to save us from sin and transform us into His image.
Let’s stop here and ask some important questions: How is your compassion for people far from God? Are you deeply concerned for your friend’s spiritual condition? Do you plead with God for his or her eyes to be opened to the truth? The Apostle Paul was so concerned for the Jewish people that he wrote, “I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them,” (Romans 9.3 NLT).
Who is on your heart as you beg God for their salvation? Maybe the brutally honest answer is no one. If that’s true, and if that bothers you, then you need God to do some work in your own heart. I have found that when I am self-consumed and self-absorbed with my goals, my dreams, my interests and my schedule, I quickly begin to lose my compassion for the people around me. The more I stare into the mirror of my own life, the less I see the needs of other people.
The Apostle Paul has some critical words for those of us who are short on compassion and high on indifference. He wrote to the Philippian church; “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” (Philippians 2.12-13 NIV).
What can cure an indifferent heart? First, Paul says we are to look at Jesus. The word “therefore” takes us back to the verses prior to these, where Paul describes Jesus. Jesus did not consider His own interest. Jesus looked to the desperate needs of others. He left His home in glory, emptying Himself of the glory that was rightfully His in heaven, and He became a servant, even to the point of suffering on the cross.
The more you look at Jesus, the more you begin to see what God wants in each of us. Selflessness. Sacrifice.
Humility. Our focus on others. His heart stands in sharp contrast to my selfishness and self-preoccupation.
Second, work on your relationship with God. Paul urges them to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Certainly, Paul isn’t saying that our salvation is a work that we perform (Ephesians 2.8-9; Titus 3.5), but he is saying that we must work on our spiritual health. Just as you would “work out” to get physically fit, you need to “work out” to get spiritually fit. Do the things you did when you were really walking with God. Spend time in God’s Word. Worship with other believers. Gather in a group with other Christians for encouragement. Serve in Christ’s name. Give of what has been given to you. As you do these things, you are chipping away at the crusty selfishness that has hardened your heart and making space for God to do a new work in your life.
Finally, ask God to give you a burden for the people around you who don’t know Jesus. Paul writes, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” (Philippians 2.13 NIV).
God alone is the one who can give you the will (desire and passion), and the ability to act in a way that fulfills His purpose for your life. The God’s Word Translation puts it this way; “It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him,” (Philippians 2.13 GWT). Spend time alone with God. Ask Him to renew in you a heart for people who need Him. Pray, “Lord, revive in me a new compassion for people. Help me see them the way you see them. And Lord, if you are looking for someone to use today, I’m available.
Used with permission, originally posted on discipleFIRST.